If you or a loved one has multiple sclerosis (MS), you know how burdensome the episodes resulting from the condition can be. Unlike many other health disorders, the symptoms of MS do not always occur on a continual basis. Very often, those suffering from MS experience sporadic flare-ups of the disease accompanied by rather disconcerting symptoms.
Quite the contrary, as it usually strikes in a pattern formation that can often be difficult to trace, particularly when these flare ups last for days and weeks on end. Some patients may suffer from episodes lasting upwards of a month, and then go two consecutive months without an attack. For those living with multiple sclerosis and receiving home care, there are a number of warning signs that loved ones should be aware of to help prevent a relapse, as well as treatment options available to help a flare-up subside sooner, rather than later.
Signs and Symptoms of a Multiple Sclerosis Relapse
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society refers to MS as an immune-mediated disease, which means that the body’s immune system attacks myelin — the protective, fatty insulation around the nerve fibers. In turn, the immune system also attacks the nerve fibers. The damage and destruction to the body’s nerve fibers distorts the signals transmitted by nerve impulses to the brain and spinal cord. The damage to the nerves causes a scar tissue called “sclerosis.”
One of the most common types of MS is the relapsing-remitting variety. According to Johns Hopkins, 85% of those with the condition begin with the relapsing-remitting type of MS. This type of MS is accompanied by flare-ups, or relapses.
The medical community defines an MS relapse as one that lasts longer than 24 hours and which is separated from the previous episode by at least one month.
There are certain warning signs of these relapses that occur before they happen:
- Vision problems
- Excessive fatigue
- Trouble with balance and coordination
- Bladder problems (e.g. the need to urinate frequently)
- Numbness in the extremities
- Heat sensitivity and muscle numbness (this can occur anywhere in the body)
Many people will experience one of more symptoms for an ongoing period. An attempt to recognize the pattern (e.g. the intensity and duration of attacks) is you and your loved one’s best defense against MS, –something your doctor will try to identify.
Relapsing MS and Treatment
Due to its sporadic cycles, living with this medical condition is understandably frustrating for multiple sclerosis patients receiving home care or going about their day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, no cure currently exists for multiple sclerosis, but on a positive note there are a few ways one can keep it at bay for a longer period of time
The ultimate goal for any MS patient is to keep flare ups to a bare minimum and lengthen remission periods. Just as well, knowing how to react when an episode occurs is paramount to the patient’s well-being. Pre-flare up symptoms are common, so recognizing them early on can better prepare the caretaker for appropriate action.
According to the National MS Society, severe flare-ups can be treated with a short cycle of high-dose corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation that triggers an MS relapse. This is just a short-term fix, as corticosteroids are believed to not have a long-term benefit on the disease. In the rarest and most severe cases that don’t respond well to steroid treatment, some doctors recommend plasmapheresis — an exchange of plasma.
Taking one’s MS medication and never missing a doctor’s appointment are vital for long-term physical and emotional health.
A good diet is a MS patient’s leading defense against relapse. A healthy immune system will not interfere with the nervous system when attempting to fight the disease. Dairy products and foods high in saturated fat should be minimized, as should refined sugars and artificial sweeteners. While diet alone can’t cure MS, a high-fiber, low fat diet can help. Heed your doctor’s advice at all times and notify them whenever a relapse occurs.
How do you take care of your loved one with MS? Share your story with us below.
For more information check out our Multiple Sclerosis Resources